Filed under: album, review | Tags: charlotte richardson andrews, july flame, laura veirs
July Flame ••••½
The decade has passed, leaving a myriad of memories and promising New Year’s resolutions, and though the winter chill is still very much in residence, sunshine is peeping through. We’re months away from the heady glow of summer, but July Flame heralds it beautifully. Tantalising and comforting in equal measures, it marks the seventh album from Portland resident Laura Veirs – the sixth to be produced by her partner Tucker Martine (Sufjan Stevens, The Decemberists, Laura Gibson) – and a return to independent operation Bella Union after a two-album dalliance with major label Nonesuch. She’s also got the firm support of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, who lends his vocals to certain tracks, saying, “Laura’s like the queen bee and my ear is her hive; she nests and makes honey in the hairs of my cochlea.”
Though July Flame sees Veirs stepping back from the full-band mores of her last two albums, regular bandmates Karl Blau and Steve Moore are onboard this offering, along with improviser Eyvind Kang who plays viola on many of the songs, and legendary arranger Stephen Barber who composed string quartet arrangements for three. Like all the best summer landscapes, July Flame dances across fields and prairies, busy with buffalo and bees and coloured with peaches, wood smoke and fireflies animating the rural planes of its songs. Though it resonates with inner desires of the heart, the living, changing landscape of the seasonal outdoors is also explored, a metaphor that captures both the welcome joy of summer and its impermanent nature. Strings lead the way on July Flame, capturing the pastoral motifs perfectly and inflecting subtle country twangs throughout, particularly on the wonderfully atmospheric ‘Where Are You Driving?’.
Though the album leaps and lulls with joy, there are melancholy moments, such as the heart-tuggingly tender ‘Sleeper In The Valley’ and the shadow fall of ‘Little Deschutes’, a somewhat weepy piano piece. End song ‘Make Something Good’ is also a little blue, in a meditative way, but Veirs’s honey-vocals, accompanied by Jim James’s deeper notes, thread a fine tendril of rising hope. On the sunnier side are ‘Life Is Good Blues’, a romantic, affirming number showcasing some effortlessly thrilling acoustic licks, and ‘Sun Is King’, which radiates with the gloriously hazy somnolence of sunbathing. ‘Summer Is The Champion’ takes things up-tempo with a sax-kissed toe-tapper, but it’s left to the title track to really capture the essence of the album with its throbbing heartbeat rhythm and haunting, nectar-intoxicated passion.
Elsewhere, ‘When You Give Your Heart’ chimes with a natural, simple charm, animated with nature and animal imagery, with fingerpicking as delicate as butterfly wings, and though it’s a little larger in sound and scale, ‘Silo Song’ is equally beautiful, with bold, soaring vocals, sky-blue and rejoicing. Veirs also plays tribute to renowned session musician Carol Kaye – who, in her long career, became the most recorded bassist of all time, worked with top producers such as Phil Spector and Quincy Jones, and artists like The Beach Boys and Dusty Springfield – with a warm-hearted ode that fits in amiably with the welcoming, celebratory atmosphere of the album. A perfect pleasure from beginning to end, July Flame is a glowing light to warm against in the winter chill until the changing of the seasons marches on.
Charlotte Richardson Andrews
UK release date: 25/01/09; www.myspace.com/lauraveirs
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